“When the landlord showed me the River Street Studios space for lease, I looked up and spotted an osprey clutching a fish in his talons as it flew overhead,” said Jane Pagliarulo, master printer and co-founder of Atelier Meridian Printmakers. “It was amazing.”
Seeking new studio space, Pagliarulo, strolled along an industrial area located on the eastside of the Willamette River and discovered a historic building that in 1929 housed Portland’s Fire Boat Station #2. She loved the Italianate arch porch and learned the three-story tower was where canvas fire hoses were hung out to dry. In the 1980s, the complex was converted to artist studios and office space, offering spectacular views of the Pearl District and the Portland Police horse stables on the west side of the river. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy once stopped at the River Street complex to stump for union votes.
In September 2013, Pagliarulo moved her printmaking equipment and supplies to River Street Studios to be nearer to nature as well as to work with other artists who lease studio space there. A group of seven artists from Oregon College of Art and Craft recently set up a metal working studio adjacent to Atelier Meridian.
Members share equipment and expertise
In 2006, Pagliarulo gave birth to a child and a print shop in the same month, co-founding Atelier Meridian with Barbara Mason, who serves as education director. The word atelier is French for “artist’s studio” or “artist’s workshop,” a place where a teacher may guide the process.
“We have a substantial investment in the equipment we own and share with artist members,” said Pagliarulo. No one artist could afford the equipment, including a big Takach etching press, Ettan etching press and Chandler and Price platen letterpress. Atelier Meridian Studio also shares a variety of printmaking tools including brayers, a hand-built rosin box used to create texture on a copper plate, rollers and smushers for pulling woodcuts, collographs, etchings, solarplates, screenprints, letterpress and monotypes.
According to Lil Wilburn, a painter and printmaker who’s been a member of Atelier since 2010, printmaking materials have really changed in the past 30 years. “We use greener, nontoxic substances. For example, inks are now made of soy and honey. Oil-based ink is locally sourced by Gamblin,” said Wilburn.
“Water-based paints are less toxic than oil-based; and they stay wet on the palate longer,” added Pagliarulo.
Printmaking is huge in Portland compared to other parts of the country where printmaking is regarded as a dying art, according to Pagliarulo. Originally from Philadelphia and the daughter of an engineer, she enjoys working with quality vintage machines. Her twin sister is Atelier Meridian’s graphic designer. “Printmaking lends itself to sharing techniques and ideas with other artists,” said Pagliarulo. “The process involves problem solving when you’re working with two or three plates and different processes. We value pointers and tips shared by other artists during informal critiques.”
Wilburn admitted that other forms of art are more solitary. “There are some mundane steps in printmaking that provide artists downtime to chat about music and politics, in addition to perfecting their craft,” she said.
Demonstrating the monoprint process
Using a 100-year-old cast iron device (Excelsior), Pagliarulo cuts 3-foot-by-5-foot copper sheets to manageable pieces using a razor-sharp plate shear. Demonstrating with acid-inscribed lines in copper, Pagliarulo wipes ink into the crevices, then uses a Tarlatan (supersized stiff cheesecloth) to wipe the surface clean. Using a Plexiglas plate, she maps out what will be the sky and mixes the inks. After she’s rolled on color and then erased it in places, she is satisfied with the image. Pagliarulo lays the plate on the paper, covers it with three heavy wool blankets and applies pressure by hand cranking the Ettan etching press. Gently removing the paper from the press, she allows the ink to dry for a day or so. The result is a beautiful, postcard-size monoprint of Rancho Valmora, a residential treatment center located near Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she once taught printmaking to troubled youth.
“A monotype is a one-of-a-kind print with no mark or matrix on it,” said Pagliarulo, who also printed lithographs and woodcuts while working for Hand Graphics in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She moved to Eastern Oregon before finally settling in Portland. In addition to offering workshops at Atelier Meridian, she also teaches monotype printmaking at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon Coast. Her work was featured at the Sitka Art Invitational event from November 2-3 at Portland’s World Forestry Center.
Studio membership and workshops
Atelier Meridian typically enrolls between eight and ten artists in its printmaking studio, and Pagliarulo invites others to join. She doesn’t require portfolio submissions. “I talk to prospective members, learn where they were trained and how much time they’ve spent printmaking. If it’s been awhile, I encourage them enroll in one of our workshops and then join. We make sure they know how to safely operate the printmaking tools and equipment. Our workshops include students just getting started in printmaking, working next to experienced printmakers and painters,” said Pagliarulo.
The studio is available 24/7, and artists can rent press time by the day, week or month. Atelier Meridian provides all the tools and supplies to create a variety of etchings, monotypes, woodcuts, letterpress and screen printings. Atelier is offering an upcoming workshop in Sketchbook Journalism with resident staff instructor and artist Gabriel Liston. On November 8th, Atelier Meridian will host an Ink and Drink gathering where the public can meet member artists. On December 6th, members’ prints will be featured for purchase at the annual holiday show held at Atelier.